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Big money, big stakes in Portland's mayoral race

by Janice Thompson, contributing writer

Eileen Brady is the fundraising leader in the Portland mayoral race with $975,525 in contributions followed by $538,494 raised by Charlie Hales and $408,675 in contributions to Jefferson Smith. (These dollar amounts reflect contributions reported through April 20 At this point in the election, campaign finance contributions and spending must be reported within seven days on ORESTAR, the online reporting system. These figures will be different by the time this article appears in print due to Oregon’s continuous reporting system.)

 Size of Contributions Analysis

There are several other mayoral candidates but the fundraising angle of this article means the focus will be on Brady, Hales, and Smith. While Brady has raised more money, Smith has more contributors and a higher percentage of his fundraising is from donors giving $100 or less compared to Brady and Hales. Hales has about 800 fewer contributors than either Brady or Smith. Contributions from donors giving $1,000 or more particularly dominate fundraising by Brady and Hales. See Table 1.

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Smith has raised money from an estimated 2,259 contributors followed by estimates of 2,182  contributors to Brady’s campaign and 1,433 contributors to Hales’ campaign. Estimating the number of contributors is necessary due to reporting requirements that don’t mandate identifying donors of $100 or less.

The larger number of donors to Smith’s campaign is reflected in the finding that 23 percent of his total fundraising thus far has come in contributions of $100 or less. The dollar amounts in this contribution size category comprise only 9 percent of Hales’ total fundraising and 7 percent of Brady’s overall fundraising. However, contributions in amounts of $100 or less, even though they come from many people, comprise less money than has been raised thus far in either of the two other size categories analyzed in Table 1.

The Brady and Hales campaigns are particularly dominated by contributions of $1,000 and up. There are 233 of these contributors to Brady’s campaign and their support comprises 73 percent of her total fundraising. There are 118 donors writing checks of $1,000 or more to Hales and their support amounts to 71 percent of his total fundraising. Smith has 111 donors who have given $1,000 and up and their support adds up to 52 percent of his total fundraising.

The domination in 2012 of total fundraising by big contributions indicates a return to a pattern seen prior to the Voter-Owned Elections era from 2006 through 2010. During the 2004 election cycle, 69 percent of the money city candidates raised came from only 602 contributors who wrote checks of $1,000 or more. This small number of contributors represented just 7 percent of total donors.

This pattern has returned to the 2012 mayoral contest with 72 percent of combined fundraising thus far by Brady, Hales, and Smith coming from just 468 contributors writing checks of $1,000 or more with this small number of donors representing, thus far, just 8 percent of total contributors. This pattern would be even more dramatic if only Brady and Hales were in the race. That 52 percent of Smith’s fundraising comes from donors giving $1,000 or more is significant but his campaign is less dominated by these large donors than either the Brady and Hales political committees.

Top Donors

The top 20 contributors to Brady comprise 36 percent of her total fundraising. Brady’s largest contribution is $95,000, an in-kind donation of a campaign ad from the Mmmmmm Society, LLC. Brady has contributed or loaned her campaign $60,000 and has also received $35,508  from the estate of Brian Rohter’s mother. (Rohter is Brady’s husband.) Emily’s List, a political action committee dedicated to supporting women candidates, has given Brady $15,000. (See Table 2.)

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The top 20 contributors to Hales comprise 43 percent of his total fundraising. Hales has received two contributions of $25,000 each from investment fund manager David Nierenberg and construction company Stacy & Witbeck. Pennsylvania resident Barbara Hall, , founder of Rejuvenation House Parts James Kelley, and property manager Melvin Mark each gave $20,000 while real estate investor Albert Solheim gave $15,250. TNT Development gave $12,500 which is interesting since they also gave $10,000 to Eileen Brady’s campaign.

The top 20 contributors to Smith’s comprise 26 percent of his total fundraising. The top donor is political consultant Megan Hull giving $11,000. AFSCME Local 189, Oregon AFSCME Council 75, and Susan Burmeister-Brown each gave $10,000. O’Neill Electric gave $9,000.

 Contribution Geography

Candidates have friends and connections that often cross city and state lines so contributions from outside of Portland and Oregon shouldn’t be a big surprise. Smith has the largest percentage of contributions coming from outside of Oregon at 23 percent from donors in 18 other states. Hales’ fundraising comes from 13 other states and comprises 21 percent of his total contributions. Brady’s fundraising includes 9 percent from donors in 19 other states.

 Double Giving

Double giving is when one donor gives financial support to two or more candidates in a race.

Thus far in 2012 mayoral fundraising, 58 contributors have hedged their bets and made contributions to more than one candidate. These double-giving contributions total $166,880 and comprise 9 percent of the combined fundraising by Brady, Hales, and Smith. Most of the double giving involves contributions from one donor to both Brady and Hales. This trend is troubling given that the contributions seem to be more about ensuring future access than dedicated support for one candidate.

Six donors gave contributions to all three candidates that totaled $15,570. Thirty-nine donors gave $128,200 to Brady and Hales while another 11 contributors gave $11,430 to Brady and Smith and 2 donors gave $11,000 to Hales and Smith.

Some double givers donate the same amount to each candidate. For example, William Dickey who owns a printing company used by many political campaigns has given $1,000 each to Brady, Hales, and Smith as did frequent political donor Win McCormack. John Carter of Schnitzer Steel Industries also gave $1,000 each to Brady, Hales, and Smith. Another triple giver, James Winkler of Winkler Development has, thus far, given $3,500 to Brady, $500 to Hales, and $250 to Smith. Making the largest double giving donations is TNT Development Co. that contributed $10,000 to Brady and $12,500 to Hales. The most lopsided double giver is railroad car manufacturer, Greenbrier Company, who gave $10,000 to Hales and $1,750 to Brady.

Contributions from double givers comprises 8 percent of Brady’s fundraising, 13 percent of fundraising by Hales and 4 percent of Smith’s fundraising, all as reported through April 20th.  These are comparable to the double giving in the 2004 contest between Sam Adams and Nick Fish where the percentage of fundraising from donors who gave to both Adams and Fish ranged from 8.6 percent of primary fundraising by Adams to 12.8 percent of general fundraising by Fish.

Broken System

Everyday Portlanders can’t afford to write checks of $1,000 much less $10,000 to mayoral candidates. Portland’s private money campaign finance system is broken as demonstrated by the domination of fundraising by such a small number of donors who can write these large checks.

Double giving is another demonstration of the broken private money campaign finance system since this contribution pattern seems designed to ensure access no matter who wins.

Also see the Willamette Week's coverage for the most updated giving in the Mayoral campaign.

About the author: Janice Thompson is the executive director for Common Cause Oregon. She is the former head of Democracy Reform Oregon (which was previously known as the Money in Politics Research Action Project) Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.